Denver-based singer-songwriter Jaiel’s debut EP, “The Magical World of Black Girlhood,” begins like any classic fairytale:
“Once upon a time.”
Jaiel’s new five-song EP uses the fairytale narrative as a foundation to explore the power of Black girlhood, friendship and the importance of knowing oneself. She continues on the opening track to introduce the “Magical World of Black Girlhood,” where “there lived a beautiful and powerful princess named Peg.”
The story’s heroine, Peg, is based on her sixth-generation great-grandmother who was emancipated from slavery on April 12, 1800. Exploring her great-grandmother’s story through Peg soon became a formative experience in Jaiel’s life.
“The story is that she essentially ends up freeing herself, asking for her freedom and getting [it] granted, and we have the documentation of her emancipation, which I think was two years ago that I read it,” Jaiel said. “It was just such a jarring, emotional, visceral experience reading this document stating that she’s free now and free to go about her own business—I think one of the lines says, ‘to transit, to transact her own business and go for herself.’ And something about that years ago was so liberating for me.”
While the world is based on reality and her actual experiences, the self-proclaimed “Disney kid, through and through” said embracing a whimsical frame for the project was a given.
“I was inspired by something one of my friends had said to me, like, ‘You know, Black women, we build our own worlds, and we create these spaces for ourselves,’” Jaiel said. “I was like, ‘Oh, what would it look like to write a song that pretends that we are in this imaginary world of Black girlhood, like Black women just free to be whatever and do whatever.”
She nods to Afrofuturism and author Ytasha Womack, who once challenged people to imagine an injustice-free world and further examine questions like, if we can’t imagine what that world looks like, how do we work toward it in actuality?
While the details came later, the foundations for the EP began taking shape when she was working on her degree.
Jaiel, who is also the first Black woman to graduate from Colorado College with a degree in music, recalled her time as a cast member in a production of Ntozake Shange’s “For Colored Girls.” At the same time, a student was suspended from the college as a result of racist comments he made on Yik Yak.
“All I could think about was nobody’s really asking us, the Black women and femmes who are on campus, how this is affecting us,” Jaiel said. “Nobody’s asking us about how we don’t feel safe walking around campus, you know, all these things. And I felt that being in that production at the time was really a way for me to navigate through those feelings that I was experiencing, and also provide a context for my fellow students to sort of have this safe space where we could talk about how we were feeling.”
The experience planted the seed for “The Magical World of Black Girlhood” and her aspirations as an artist in general:
“I want to make art that speaks to what it is that [Black women are] experiencing, whether it’s good or bad or indifferent but that centers us, really,” Jaiel said.
Jaiel said Black women often create their own spaces, especially in places like Colorado. Though, she said it’s worth narrowing our focus.
“Of course, there’s room for these conversations to ‘have a seat at the table,’ but we already have tables,” Jaiel said. “What if we take the tables that we have, and we celebrate those and we pour our resources and our energy into those? How can we expand, continue to heal and celebrate each other in a way that ultimately does benefit the rest of the world but benefits us first?”
While the EP is very personal, Jaiel emphasized that this work didn’t start with her and lives in conjunction with myriad other Black women and their experiences. The project ultimately encompasses the thoughts and experiences of countless Black women and girls in her life: her mother her aunts, nieces and cousins; her best friend and even her ancestors from 222 years ago.
Jaiel will soon expand “The Magical Girl of Black Girlhood” into a live experience, as she prepares for her June 18 performance at Lost Lake Lounge and more live shows this summer. She plans to continue exploring these themes, though she’s sure the conversations she explores next will continue to evolve along with her own experiences.
Since the album’s April 22 release, Jaiel said it’s been “astonishing” to bring people together of all different backgrounds. While the album centers on and celebrates Black girls and women, Jaiel said it’s allowed all listeners to honor themselves and anything else they might want to celebrate in today’s trying world.
“Life is hard right now,” Jaiel said. “What I’ve seen in the last week-and-a-half is that the music and the stories are really creating a space for people to heal and get back into a place of refuge in what feels like awful times.”
While people around the country continue fighting for equality, human rights and racial justice, there’s still a long road ahead to reach true equity. But small moments of joy have kept Jaiel marching forward. Jaiel recalled a protest she attended in 2020. As the sun went down and the scene became “dark and scary,” someone in the crowd started playing “BROWN SKIN GIRL” by Beyonce. The mood suddenly shifted.
“Somehow, we were all just finding all this joy, and I had the awareness like, someone has to write the music for that, right? Someone has to be the one to open the door for healing and refuge and has to remember what joy feels like.”
Read the original piece on the Ms. Mayhem website.